When it returned to power in 2009, the UPA had 262 members in the Lok Sabha; nearly a third, 83, hailed from the four Southern states. With the Congress in terminal decline in the Hindi heartland, holding the South has become crucial for the party’s fortunes since 1991. Now that an undeniable anti-Congress wave is sweeping the country, the party’s hopes of stalling the Narendra Modi campaign rest on a strong showing in the South. Anti-incumbency against the Centre has traditionally tended to weaken as one moves away from Delhi and local factors begin to dominate. Corruption, price rise and economic slowdown have contributed to the anti-Congress sentiment, but the performance of incumbent governments and local politics could influence the Southern vote more.
The alliances sewn up in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu before the general elections will decide how the Congress fares in the forthcoming general elections. Repeating its 2009 performance when the Congress won 33 of the 42 AP seats would have been a tall order in any case. The palpable anger in Seemandhra against the Congress for the Telangana statehood decision will benefit the YSR Congress and the Telugu Desam Party, which is aggressively courting BJP. The Congress has to choose between decimation in the polls or eating humble pie by allying with its bete noire Jagan Reddy in Seemandhra. Meanwhile, in Telangana, a well-placed Telangana Rashtriya Samiti will play a spoiler unless it merges with the Congress.
After quitting the UPA over the Srilankan Tamil issue, the DMK and the Congress realise they are stuck with each other. The DMK is coming to terms with the realisation that no party other than the Congress wants any truck with it after the involvement of its leaders in the 2G spectrum scam. In contrast to earlier years when Jayalalitha gave the DMK ammunition by resorting to crude targeting of its leaders or unabashed displays of power and wealth, this time around the AIADMK supremo has been uncharacteristically restrained. The BJP’s fortunes are also on an upswing, as is evident from Modi’s massive rally at Trichy. A tie-up with the AIADMK will bolster the BJP unlike the erstwhile DMK-Congress alliance which has been yielding diminishing returns.
The lone state in the country where the Congress could fare well is Karnataka. The BJP peaked in 2009 cornering 19 of the 28 seats here but corruption allegations and factionalism have damaged the party since then. The desperation to tide over the 2013 assembly poll setback has forced the party to invite the tainted BS Yeddyurappa back. However, this has also effectively undermined the BJP’s anti-corruption plank against the Congress. The Siddaramaiah government has held its ground and the Congress’ traditional bane, factionalism, has surprisingly waned.
In Kerala, the Congress-led United Democratic Front alliance has increasingly looked to be at the mercy of religious and caste groups. Time and again, Christian, Muslim, and Hindu caste groups have successfully wrested concessions from the Congress. The kowtowing to communal interests coupled with the solar scam has hurt the UDF, which holds 16 of the 20 seats won in 2009. The lone silver lining has been Chief Minister Oommen Chandy’s mass contact programme which has cut red tape and benefitted the poor. This has eaten into the opposition LDF’s core constituency but may not be enough to tide over anti-incumbency. Notwithstanding a general consensus that the Manmohan Singh government was a failure, the perceived divergence between local interests and national trends in the Southern states complicates the fight for 2014.